Arthur Lewis

Arthur Lewis

Economist awarded with the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979.

William Arthur Lewis was born on January 23, 1915, onSt. Lucia. He was the son of immigrant educators from the Caribbean island of Antigua. At age 7, he left school due to health problems. His father, prior to his death, took charge of educating his son at home. As a result, Lewis learned as much in three months as students were taught in school in two years. He was promoted from fourth grade to sixth grade and thus spent the rest of his student and working life ahead of others his age. By age 18, he had already worked and studied with others two or three years older than he was. Because of these experiences, Lewis said that he often felt uncomfortable and was at a disadvantage physically, and he also learned that having the highest grades was not the only thing in life. When he was 7 years old, Lewis and his five siblings had to face the death of their father. But thanks to his mother’s hard work and sacrifice, he and his siblings were able to grow up and be successful.

At age 14, having completed his academic requirements, he went to work in a bank in the civil service until 1932, when he won a scholarship he needed to enter a British university. There was a lot of racial conflict in the 1930s, and the British government had imposed a “color bar” in its colonies, which only allowed black youths to study to be doctors or lawyers, professions that would guarantee them an income without governmental assistance. But Arthur wanted to be an engineer. He eventually decided to study business administration, with plans to return to St. Lucia to work in the municipal service or for a private business. He studied law at the same time, in case things didn’t work out as he planned in administration. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business at the London School of Economics, where he studied accounting, business administration, business law, economics and statistics. This education prepared him for the various administrative jobs he did.

Lewis confessed that in 1933 he had no idea what economics was, but he was good at it from the start, graduating with honors in 1937. The London School of Economics gave him a scholarship to earn his Ph.D. in industrial economics.

In 1938, he began teaching under a one-year contract at the University of Manchester. In 1939, he signed a four-year contract as an assistant instructor. By 1948, at 33 years of age, he was a full-time professor at the University of Manchester and had married Gladys, with whom he had two daughters: Elizabeth and Barbara. He was a lecturer at the University of London from 1938 to 1948, and Vice Chancellor at the University of the West Indies from 1959 to 1963.

Before he arrived at Manchester, his field of study had been industrial economics. After publishing several articles on the topic, he published a book in 1949. His research prior to 1948 focused on industrial economics and the history of the global economy since 1944. His interest in economic development took root after 1950.

From 1960 to 1982, Lewis served as a professor of International and Public Affairs at PrincetonUniversity. After he retired from Princeton in 1983, he was named president of the American Economics Association.

Lewis was a prolific writer about economics, having published 81 professional articles and 10 books in the period from 1941 to 1988. One of his most important contributions was an article in 1954 in which he discussed the concept of a “dual economy” in a poor country. This became commonly known as “the Lewis model.” The model explains the growth in development of an economy in terms of a transition of labor between the capitalist sector and the subsistence sector.

Between 1970 and 1974, he established the Caribbean Economic Development Bank and in 1979 he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. Arthur Lewis died on June 15, 1991.

Author: Zahira Cruz
Published: June 06, 2012.

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